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12/15/2015

~ Ooh-La-La: Beefy French Onion Soup Dumplings ~

IMG_9174When it comes to Soupe a l'Oignon a la Francaise (French Onion Soup), I take no shortcuts -- the time it takes to achieve perfection is irrelevant.  I'm not interested in amateurish thirty-minute-or-less dumbed-down versions -- using flour to thicken the homemade beef stock and/or sugar to sweeten the caramelized onions is sacrilege. There's more:  you'll be verbally abused for suggesting vegan stock, beaten with a baguette for any utterance about gluten-free bread, and, ejected from my kitchen if you say soy cheese can be substituted for nutty Gruyere.

When it comes to French Onion Soup, I'm a by-the-book purist.

Prime Rib Roast #9My tradition has always been to serve a ~ Perfect "Prime" Rib Roast (Standing Rib Roast) ~ on Christmas Day, and, I begin that fancy-schmancy sit-down dinner by serving ~ French Onion Soup (Soup a l'Oignon) a la Mel ~ as the starter course.  That means that every year at this time, ~ Mel interrupts Christmas to bring you: Beef Stock ~.  (Click on the Related Article links below to get both recipes.)  I made 12 quarts of primo beef stock yesterday.

When it comes to French Onion Soup Dumplings -- I'm a cheat.

SSOnionSoupFrench onion soup dumplings came into my life late at night via a rerun of The Food Network Show:  The Best Thing I ever Ate.  The show visited a Lower East Side NYC restaurant located at the intersection of Stanton and Ludlow streets called The Stanton Social. The show's host,  Claire Robinson extolled the virtues of their signature "one bite wonders": French onion soup dumplings.

"French onion soup you can eat with a toothpick!"

< Photo courtesy of The Food Network & The Stanton Social.

The Stanton Social's schtick is "small plates designed to be shared" -- everything comes in the form of a happy little meal and/or small-bite food in general.  It's like tapas but not in Spanish. I call it "global fusion" -- "recipes from around the world that are sometimes fused together".

IMG_8924In the case of this $15 menu item: French onion soup meets Chinese dumplings.  Chinese wonton wrappers are filled with a thick but soup-juicy French onion soup mixture of beef broth, caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese.  Once steamed, the dumplings are placed in an escargot dish, topped with more Gruyere, baked until bubbly and golden, then, poked with a cocktail skewer containing a crunchy French bread crouton.  

The Stanton Social will not reveal to anyone how they keep the slurpy soup concoction inside the dumplings, but, having watched The Food Network video carefully, several times, I think the soup mixture is placed in the dumplings in the form of a semi-frozen slush or a frozen cube, then, as the dumpling steams, the center mixture thaws  -- it makes sense to me.  That said:

IMG_9173As the saying goes, "Not my circus, not my monkeys!"

Ooh_la_la_poodle_wall_artFrom the moment I watched their episode it wasn't my desire to duplicate this wild-ride of a restaurant recipe.  I wanted to borrow the concept and uncomplicate it as much as possible for the home kitchen.  I wanted this frivolous, impressive and unique dish to be a fun undertaking.  I succeeded, and, while it's still a wild-ride of a recipe, it's considerably less time consuming than scratch-making all of the components for real-deal French onion soup -- eight hours to make my gelatinous beef shank stock and four hours to caramelized onions via a slow oven-roasting process. Thanks to my "quicker methods", used below, the stock cooks itself in two hours while I caramelize onions and make the croutons on the stovetop, and, all three deliver all of the ooh-la-la flavor you could possibly ask for.

Part One:  Making the Filling for the Dumplings

IMG_8849For my quicker beef stock:

2  quarts store-bought beef stock

2  2-pound beef chuck roasts

2  each:  large celery ribs and peeled carrots

1  onion, peeled and cut in half

1  small bunch fresh parsley

2  whole bay leaves

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_8877 IMG_8854~ Step 1. Place all of the ingredients in an 8-quart stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to a steady, but gentle simmer, partially cover the pot and let it cook itself for 2 hours.  If the meat is not falling off the bone, cook it longer.

IMG_8890 IMG_8880~ Step 2. Discard the bones, place beef on a cutting board and pour stock into a fat/lean separator.

IMG_8903Using a fork, shred the meat into small bits and pieces.

IMG_8915Note:  You'll have about 4 1/2 cups each: shredded beef & beef stock.  

Why add beef to store-bought beef stock, especially since only stock, not the meat goes into classic French onion soup?

As a card-carrying carnivore, I felt I would liked the dumplings better with a bit of beef in them.  I did, and, I think you will too!

IMG_8932For my quicker caramelized onions:

2 1/2  pounds sweet onion, cut in half, then quarters, then sliced into 1/4"-thick pieces*

3  tablespoons olive oil

3  tablespoons butter

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

IMG_89251/2  cup beef stock (from above recipe)

Note:  The Stanton Social uses a combination of four different onions: white Spanish, red, cipolloni and shallots.  Since my objective was KISS (keep it simple stupid), I went with one easy-to-find kind.

~ Step 1.  Prep the onions as directed.  In a deep, 12" skillet, melt the butter into the olive oil over low heat.  Add the onions to the skillet.

IMG_8936 IMG_8937 IMG_8948 IMG_8950Season with the sugar, sea salt and Worcestershire sauce.  Using a large spoon or spatula, toss until onions are evenly coated in the oil/butter mixture.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Continue to slowly cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until onions have lost a lot of their volume, are limp and steamed through (photo #2 below).  They will not be browned.

IMG_8951 IMG_8954 IMG_8961 IMG_8990~Step 2.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 15 minutes.  At this point,  onions will be lightly browned (photo #3 above).  From this point on, do not leave the stove.  The onions will require almost constant stirring and they can go from browned to burned very quickly.  

IMG_8978~ Step 3.  Deglaze pan by adding 1/4 cup of beef stock and continue stirring for 5-6 minutes.  Add  a second 1/4 cup of the beef stock and continue stirring another 5-6 minutes.  Remove from heat.*

IMG_8982Set aside and cool to room temperature, 30 minutes.

*Note:  You will have about 2 cups of the best-tasting caramelized onions you could ask for (done in this shortened period of time). At this point, if you have no objection to alcohol, stir up to 1 tablespoon of good-quality dry sherry, to taste, into the onions to add some authentic French onion soup flavor.

IMG_9005For the grated cheese:

2  cups finely-grated Gruyere cheese (Note:  It's important to finely-grate the Gruyere for the filling -- use the small blades on the box grater pictured here.)

Tip from Mel:  Gruyere cheese, which is known for its nutty flavor and creamy-smooth melting quality is traditional when making French onion soup. Even though it is Swiss cheese, the cheese with large holes labeled Swiss cheese is not a substitution for it.  If you must substitute, I suggest Fontina.

IMG_9010To mix the filling:

~ Step 1.  Place 2 cups shredded beef in a medium bowl.  Set aside the remaining two cups (you'll see why later).  Using your fingers, feel your way through it (and the reserved 2 cups too), breaking up any chunks, making sure that it is in very small bits and shreds.  

IMG_9019~ Step 2. Add all of the onions to the beef.  

IMG_9032 IMG_9022Using two forks, toss like a salad, until the onions are evenly distributed throughout the beef.  

IMG_9028~ Step 3. Add 1 cup grated Gruyere, and, using the forks, toss again.  Repeat with the second cup of grated Gruyere.

Part Two:  Making My Ten-Minute French Bread Croutons

IMG_9133Classic French onion soup is known for that toasted piece of French bread floated on the top, just underneath the molten cheese layer -- it sops up the broth as you eat.  In the case of this appetizer, the Stanton Social replaced it with a crunchy crouton at the top as the "piece de resistance" (which, in French, refers to "the best or most important thing", "an outstanding item", and,"the chief component of a meal".  My own ten-minute crouton recipe is exactly that.

~ Step 1.  Trim the crust from a 1-pound baguette or batard and cut the rest into 1/2"-3/4" cubes.

IMG_9141 IMG_9143 IMG_9145 IMG_9153~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet over low heat, melt 2 sticks salted butter.  Stir in 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder and 3/4 teaspoon white pepper.  Add the bread cubes and, using two large slotted spoons, toss like you would a salad, until the cubes are evenly coated in the butter. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to toss the cubes until they are golden brown and crunchy, 8-10 minutes.  Transfer croutons to a paper-towel lined plate to cool completely.

Part Three:  Filling and Cooking the Dumplings

IMG_9044A bit about wonton wrappers.  They come in 3" squares or rounds (I'm using square ones today), usually 50 per package.  I have enough filling to fill 8 dozen, so I bought 2, 12-ounce packages, 50 count, wonton wrappers.  Yes, this is a lot, but, once they are filled and formed, I will freeze six dozen of them.   

IMG_9054Because they dry out quickly, my method is to take out half of the package (one stack) and wrap it in a dampened (not soaked) towel, keeping the rest wrapped in plastic until I am ready to use them.

IMG_9048~ Step 1.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment.  Fill a small bowl with room temperature water.  Get out a pastry brush and a round, 1" ice-cream scoop (1 tablespoon).

IMG_9056 IMG_9058 IMG_9062 IMG_9063~Step 2.  Working one or two at a time (so the wrappers don't dry out), using the ice-cream scoop as a measure, place a well-packed but scant tablespoon of filling (be sure to use less than a tablespoon -- a full or heaping tablespoon is too much filling) in the the center of each wrapper.  Using a pastry brush, paint a 1/2" strip of water on the surface of all four sides.

IMG_9071 IMG_9066~ Step 3. Picking up a lower-right hand corner and an upper left-hand corner, lift until they meet at the top then press the two top tips together. Press the open sides together to form a triangle that will sit up .  

IMG_9069Using your fingertips dipped in water, wet the two end tips facing you and pull them together, overlapping them at the center -- pretend the triangle is giving itself a big bear hug!

IMG_9088Continue working until all of the dumplings are formed.  For demonstration purposes, I am making 24 today, which, once we cook them according to the directions below, will be enough to show you how to make four appetizers, or, eight small appetizer-sized bowls of soup!

IMG_9095Note:  At this point, the pan of dumplings can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours, overnight or, frozen for several weeks or months.

Heads up.  Steps 4 & 5 go really fast, so, read them through carefully prior to proceeding.

~ Step 4.  To cook 24 dumplings at a time, place a thin coating, about 6 tablespoons vegetable oil in the bottom of the same 12" pan used to caramelize the onions.  Do not overcrowd the pan.  Don't do it.  

IMG_9104Over low heat, one at a time, using your fingertips, place the dumplings in the pan, making sure you "scoot" (swirl it around) each one around in the oil to coat its bottom.  

Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook, until the bottoms are golden brown, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  They will tell you when they're golden, as they will cleanly and easily release themselves from the pan without resistance.

IMG_9118~ Step 5.  Be careful and be prepared for a lot of steam.  

IMG_9111Add 1 cup of the beef stock to the pan, immediately cover pan, and allow the dumplings to continue to cook through to their tops, 5-6 minutes.

IMG_9123 IMG_9127~ Step 6. Remove from heat. Wait a moment or two or five, then, using your fingertips (don't use tongs -- it will damage them), transfer dumplings to four escargot dishes that have been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Note:  At this point, without compromise, you can cover the dishes with plastic wrap and refrigerate them overnight, which, is very convenient.

Part Four:  Assembling and Finish-Cooking the Appetizers

IMG_9160I told you this was a wild-ride of a recipe and I hope you've had as much fun as I have.  The only thing left to do now is grate some more Gruyere (this time use the medium blades of the box grater).  For every plate of appetizers, grate a generous 1/2 cup.  For garnishes: use chopped chives if you've got them or thinly-sliced green scallion tops if you don't. Preheat your broiler with the oven rack positioned 6" below the heat.

IMG_9162Top each plate with a generous 1/2 cup cheese and place under broiler for a short 2 1/2-3 minutes.  

Watch carefully!

The tops of the dumplings should be golden and the cheese should be melted and bubbly and just short of turning brown.  

To serve poke each dumpling with a fancy-schmancy cocktail toothpick containing a crunchy crouton and garnish with a sprinkling of chopping chives.

For New Year's Eve, Superbowl or Oscar Night...

IMG_9182... Enjoy every cheesy beefy slurpy bite!

IMG_9191They just might be the best appetizer I ever ate!

IMG_9209Then there's the "throw tradition out the window" option -- OMG:

IMG_9242Ooh-La-La:  Beefy French Onion Soup Dumplings:  Recipe yields about 4 1/2 cups beef stock, 4 cups shredded beef, and, 2 cups caramelized onions.  There will be 5 cups of filling, or, enough to to fill 8 dozen dumplings, which can be frozen in advance of cooking them.  All in all, enough ingredients to make 16 appetizers or 24 small appetizer-sized bowls of soup.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; cutting board; fork; fat/lean separator; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & lid, or, 12" skillet w/lid; large slotted spoon or spatula; box grater; two forks; serrated bread knife; 2 large slotted spoons; paper towels; 1-2, 17 1/2"x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 100% cotton, flour-sack-type kitchen towel; pastry brush

IMG_9220 IMG_9222 IMG_9225 IMG_9227Cook's Note:  To serve French Onion Soup Dumplings a la French Onion Soup, just portion a bit of that leftover beef in the bottom of eight traditional crocks.  Add four dumplings, some additional store-bought beef broth (or homemade if you have it in the freezer which is what I did), a few croutons, then top with cheese.  Place under the broiler and finish as directed above!

IMG_3513Extra Cook's Note:  If you're going to start a meal with an ooh-la-la of an appetizer like French Onion Soup Dumplings, you probably should finish it with an ooh-la-la of a dessert too.  Just click into Categories 6, 21 or 26 to get my recipe for ~ Silky Smooth Creme Caramel (Crema Caramella) ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

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